Feeds

Astronomers witness birth of a mini-Earth

Distant rocky planets emerging from the dust

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

A long time ago, in a star system far, far away, an Earth-like planet is forming. It is actually only 424 light years away in a system known as HD 113766, outside the reach of your Oyster cards* but a mere stroll in astronomical terms.

Artists' impression of the forming planet

Artists' impression of the forming planet.

Scientists using the Spitzer Space Telescope have spotted a very young star, just ten million years old, encircled by a huge disk of warm dust - more than enough to build a Mars-sized planet. The age and set-up look just right for the formation of rocky planets, the researchers say.

"The timing for this system to be building an Earth is very good," said Dr. Carey Lisse, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. "If the system was too young, its planet-forming disk would be full of gas, and it would be making gas-giant planets like Jupiter instead. If the system was too old, then dust aggregation or clumping would have already occurred and all the system's rocky planets would have already formed."

Lisse explains that the mix of materials is just right, too. Analysing data from the Spitzer, he determined that the dust is in conditions roughly halfway between the primordial (which we know about from missions to comets and from analysis of meteorites) and the stable planets we find in our solar system.

"The material mix in this belt is most reminiscent of the stuff found in lava flows on Earth," said Lisse.

He says the disk contains no water ice, carbonates, or fragile organic materials like those found when NASA smashed a probe into the comet Tempel-1. But nor has the mixture totally differentiated. That is to say, the metals are still mixed in with the rocky materials. When planets are formed, the metals collect in the centre (although the mechanism by which this happens is still hotly debated).

"It is fantastic to think we are able to detect the process of terrestrial planet formation. Stay tuned - I expect lots more fireworks as the planet in HD113766 grows," he adds.

Lisse's paper will be published in an upcoming issue of Astrophysical Journal. ®

*A pre-pay travel system for the good city of London.

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
TRIANGULAR orbits will help Rosetta to get up close with Comet 67P
Probe will be just 10km from Space Duck in October
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
Why your mum was WRONG about whiffy tattooed people
They're a future source of RENEWABLE ENERGY
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.